Celtic’s Henrik Larsson Enriched The Whole Of Scottish Football

Twenty years ago today Celtic signed one Henrik Larsson from Feyenoord for just £650,000.

I had remembered the dreadlocked forward from the 1994 World Cup and he had impressed in what was a very talented Swedish side. But by 1996 he had kind of fallen off my radar until Celtic’s new gaffer Wim Jansen had arrived at Parkhead and earmarked Larsson as a priority purchase.

Things hadn’t gone swimmingly in Rotterdam for the Swede, but Jansen had worked with him and knew the talent he possessed. Larsson was clearly eager to move to Glasgow and prove himself in a Hoops jersey.

He did far more than just prove himself in Scotland, he turned our game upside down and the whole country inevitably benefited from his presence. I say that even though I was Rangers fan at the time!

His tale of being nearly forgotten about and written off before coming to Scotland and rediscovering himself is almost identical to that of Brain Laudrup, who had a similar impact in Glasgow but with the blue half of the city instead of the green half.

Larsson would eventually prove himself to be a world-class striker but alas his first real worthy contribution for Celtic was to pass the ball to a Hibs player (Chic Charnley) who would then go on and score the winner in Larsson’s debut. He would follow that up with an own goal in his European debut of the club.

Opposition supporters started to get the feeling that Celtic had signed yet another dud!

Larsson would soon drive that thought out of everyone’s mind as he’d lethally downed any and every Scottish team that he came up against.

His first season ended with sixteen league strikes to his name. More importantly he help his side to the league championship and halted Rangers march to a record breaking tenth title in a row!

Larsson would then smash in thirty-eight in forty-eight games for the Hoops in the 1998-99 campaign. He was devastating in and around the box. So smart, quick and had a terrific leap on him that was priceless when the ball was crossed into the penalty area.

Then in 1999, Larsson would suffer a horrific leg break in a European tie against Lyon. His leg was literally left dangling and it looked like a career defining injury.

In a lot of ways it probably was a career defining moment for the hitman but not in the negative way many had initially feared. The break was clean and that helped a lot. Larsson being the man he is, didn’t let the injury get him down. He made sure he rehabilitated properly and when he came back he seemed stronger, faster, fitter and better than before.

It seemed as if he used his enforced down-time to reinforce his skills and predatory instincts. He was now a player that wouldn’t let anything get in his way or stop him from achieving his goals.

Goals being the perfect word.

He was a goal machine, not since Ally McCoist had Scotland seen such as predator inside the box. It didn’t seem to matter where he was or on what foot, he’d always stick the ball away. In the air he was still phenomenal, probably one of the best I’ve ever seen in world football.

He scored hatfuls of goals, yet he wasn’t an overly selfish player. Henrik would form fantastic partnerships with the likes of Chris Sutton and John Hartson and they too would reach double figures and Larsson would often have a hand in their strikes too.

As a striker he didn’t just score in the smaller games, Henrik would terrorise teams in Europe (he’s still Celtic’s all-time leading scorer in European competition) and he would often shine in cup finals too. In the 2003 he almost helped the Hoops clinch a historic UEFA Cup triumph, scoring twice in the final.

The Swedish international also had the knack of scoring and doing well in Old Firm clashes.

In thirty Old Firm fixtures, Celtic’s legendary number seven scored fifteen times. No foreigner has a better record in the biggest of Glasgow derbies. But Larsson never boasted about his feats or rub it into Gers fans faces. He loved scoring and winning, he clearly adored playing for Celtic but you didn’t hear much in the way of criticism from Rangers supporters. In truth, they could see his talent and begrudgingly they appreciated it.

Larsson, again like Laudrup, forged a deep and meaningful relationship with the supporters that cherished him. That would see him staying at Celtic longer than he needed to and he wouldn’t be tempted by offers from superior leagues.

In total he was at Parkhead for seven seasons.

He would leave scoring a whopping 242 times in 313 games. In his seven years at Parkhead, he would finish Scotland’s leading goalscorer in five seasons. In 2001, Henrik would be crowned Europe’s top scorer. He won four league titles, two Scottish Cups and two League Cups during his stay in Glasgow’s east-end.

His talent and achievements made him one of Celtic’s greatest ever heroes. Outside of the Lisbon Lions, it’s hard to think of a better Celt.

As I said previously, no one (even opposition fans) could really fault the man. His time at Celtic helped our whole game in Scotland and we could all see he was a fantastic player playing at the height of his powers. We rarely see that in this country, so when we do, we need to embrace it and remember it. Even if it means remembering him embarrassing some of your own players.

His coolness in front of goal, his intelligence and his ability in the air were second to none up here. He also had that modestly that made it impossible to dislike the guy!

I was delighted that at thirty-four, Henrik was able to join the mega stars of FC Barcelona and show that he deserved to play alongside the likes of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. He didn’t look out of place as he helped them to two La Liga’s and a Champions League final victory.

Henrik Larrson was a true professional and an absolute beast inside the box. His talent will always be remembered, not just at Celtic Park but throughout Scotland!

“I had the privilege to work with Henrik Larsson and he was sublime, absolutely sublime.”

Martin O’Neill (Former Celtic manager)

“In his last game in our colours at Middlesbrough, we were winning 2-1 and Henrik went back to play in midfield and ran his balls off. On his return to the dressing-room, all the players stood up and applauded him, and the staff joined in. It takes some player to make that kind of impact in two months..”

Sir Alex Ferguson (Former Manchester United manager)

“When he came to Barcelona, Henrik said nice things about me but by the time he left he was my idol.”

Ronaldinho (Former world player of the year and Barcelona maestro)

‘Henrik was good enough to play for any team in Europe. But after playing at Celtic Park it is easy to understand why he chose to stay there for so long.’

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Larsson’s former strike partner for Sweden)

Man United Would be Foolish If They Let Anthony Martial Leave

Anthony Martial showed in a recent friendly win over Real Madrid that he has the precious talent that could see him become a world class performer at Manchester United sooner rather than later.

Reports today suggest that the young Frenchman could be on his way to Inter Milan. The Serie A giants want Martial in any deal that sees winger Ivan Perisic move to Old Trafford. Some speculate that Martial would only go on a season long loan, while others suggest that Inter will insist on having a clause inserted into the deal that would allow them to sign Anthony on a permanent basis next summer.

If I were Jose Mourinho, I’d be dead against letting the exciting forward go.

When Jose joined many queried about his ability to handle young players and get them to perform on a regular basis for the first team. United have a rich history of getting the very best from the younger players within their pool of talent.

Mourinho stated that he would do his upmost to give youngsters a chance at United. So to offload a gifted player like Martial could be seen as a defeat for the manager in the eyes of many Man Utd fans.

The twenty-one year old came with a huge price tag in 2015 but he settled in really well and quickly too. As youngsters do, he showed no fear and his skill-set was well liked by the United faithful.

His debut goal against Liverpool was a joyful moment and it seemed he was well on his way in becoming a club legend and the next great superstar.

He finished his debut season with seventeen goals in forty-nine appearances for the ‘Red Devils’.

The hitman would then go on and represent France at the Euros. By that stage he looked tired and in need of a rest. I think his below average performances at those championships probably dented his confidence.

Then Jose arrived onto the scene at Carrington.

Instantly you could tell that the Portuguese boss wanted to use Martial differently. He gave the star’s number nine shirt to the incoming Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony was then handed the number eleven jersey. It was obvious that Mourinho felt the attacker was going to be better off out on one of the wings.

Martial’s already suffering confidence would have taken another pummelling with that decision. You could tell that he wanted to play as the main striker and get the glory of scoring the goals.

He had to adapt to his new role and he didn’t adapt as quickly as Jose would’ve wanted. That would mean that Martial would spend a lot of last season coming in and out of the starting line-up.

Mourinho has came out this pre-season and asked for more consistency from the French internationalist:

“He is a young player. He still has time to learn, to improve and develop,” 

“We want more consistency in his talent.”

Martial has to heed his gaffer’s advice but I wonder if Jose could learn to adapt his own approach when handling Anthony.

I remember him asking Eden Hazard for more consistency in his first season back at Chelsea but then in his second year he would make an effort to praise the Belgian maestro at every opportunity. It worked wonders as Hazard would become player of the year and Chelsea would win the Premier League title.

Obviously you can still work with him on the training field to improve his defensive awareness and his deliveries into the penalty area.

Anthony Martial, for me, has the ability and qualities to reach the same level Hazard is at. He just needs a boost in confidence. The forward has great pace, quick feet and a good presence of mind on where the ball is and where it should be.

Against Real his directness and his ability on the ball turned defenders inside out as he’d go on and give Jesse Lingard a tap in. He showed right there than he can master the left-wing role. He just needs more game time and probably a bit more praise too.

Honestly I think he could easily be one of the Premier League’s best strikers one day, if he can get another chance through the middle. His likeness to Thierry Henry really is uncanny and his instinct in-front of goal is sublime.

Hopefully Jose will give him and Marcus Rashford the chance to partner Romelu Lukaku up-top at points during this season.

All in all I think it would be a huge mistake to offload Anthony Martial this summer. He has all the talent in the world and it’s up to the Man United management team to get the best out of him and to get it on a weekly basis.

Plus I am not sure signing Croat Perisic can be seen as an upgrade. He only created two more assist’s than Martial last term, even though he started thirteen more matches. He also doesn’t possess the same pace and is six years older.

Get Ivan Perisic by all means, just don’t do it if it means you lose Martial.

Aberdeen Are Still Scotland’s Second Force

Forget all Pedro Caixinha’s spin about Aberdeen’s cycle coming to an end, the Dons are still Scotland’s second best team at the moment.

Can Rangers overhaul the deficit and overtake the North East side? Yes quite possibly but it certainly won’t be easy.

Aberdeen have had a very successful summer, in my opinion.

Unlike Rangers and St Johnstone, they’ve managed to produce away from home in Europe and navigate their way through to the next round. The result in Bosnia against Siroki Brijeg showed us that the Dons are already well prepared for this upcoming season. It also gave Scottish football a timely morale boost.

Confidence must be high in the Granite City.

Yes they’ve lost some good players. Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes and Ryan Jack have all departed the club. But Derek McInnes has done well in the transfer market and brought in some fine replacements.

In the Hayes deal, Aberdeen managed to get Celtic’s Ryan Christie back on a season long loan.

Christie has talent and showed that in the last six months at Pittodrie. He’s direct and he can turn games. During his loan stint last term, he bagged six goals in thirteen league appearances. So I don’t see any reason for him not to reach double figures this season!

Gary Mackay-Steven undoubtably has plenty of skill and has proven in the past that he can be a great asset in the Scottish Premiership. Only two seasons ago he was keeping James Forrest out of the Celtic team and playing better than the Scottish international. He didn’t really get a look in under Brendan Rodgers and was maybe not good enough for the champions but he’ll arrive at Aberdeen determined to prove himself.

Gary seems to have settled right in at his new club and with his new teammates. He impressed in both legs against Brijeg and scored the vital second goal in the away leg. I expect him to have a good season with the Dandies and McInnes will be delighted that he managed to sign the tricky winger on a permanent deal.

Forward Greg Stewart has also joined the club on a season long loan from Birmingham City. Stewart might have had a tough time of it in the Midlands last season but he showed at Dundee that he can find the net in Scotland’s top flight. Very good with the ball at his feet, he’s another one with a point to prove.

Midfield battler Greg Tansey has come in from Inverness Caley Thistle on a Bosman deal. He might be the man tasked with replacing former captain Jack in the engine room. The Englishman will certainly add more physical presence to the Dons midfield.

McInnes was delighted when it was announced that they had caputred Tansey:

“He is a confident player, exactly the type of player we want to see at our club. There is more to come from Greg and I’m sure we will provide the perfect platform for him to develop.”

Icelandic international Kari Arnason has re-joined the club and he adds experienced to the defensive line. Obviously having been at Aberdeen previously will mean that he will have no issue with adapting to the Scottish style.

Nicky Maynard has had a varied career down south and has had a lull in fortunes as of late. But the Dons have a good recent history of upturning such player’s fortunes at Pittodrie. The striker had worked previously with Dons boss McInnes at Bristol City.

Aberdeen have also done well in keeping a good core of the first team stars at the club. Graeme Shinnie, Shay Logan, Mark Reynolds and Andrew Considine have all shown that they are very consistent performers in the Premiership.

Main striker Adam Rooney is still there and he’s a man full of goals. He’ll enjoy having the supply on tap that Mackay-Steven and Christie will offer him this term.

In Kenny McLean I believe that Aberdeen have one of the best midfielders in the league. Rangers have been linked with a move but it seems McInnes is determined to keep hold of the talented middleman. If he does stay then Aberdeen will be much better for it.

Joe Lewis was without doubt one of the best goalkeepers in Scotland last term. So to get the former England U21 international to sign a new contract with the club is one of the best pieces of business from the Dons this summer and shows their intent to remain strong. His career transformation in the North East is an example for new boy Maynard to follow.

A huge plus for the club has been keeping boss Derek McInnes at the club. His contract extension was widely applauded and it was a real sign that Aberdeen aren’t prepared to stand still. Derek himself turned down the opportunity to takeover at Sunderland and that to seems like a defining moment for the Dons.

See that’s the thing Aberdeen have over rivals Rangers, Hearts and Hibs. They have a stability and a continuation that has stood the test of time and worked. They seem to keep improving.

They welcomed new investment this summer and have spent it wisely in a market they trust and on players that have proven track-records in this country.

Aberdeen should’t look back and worry about others this season. They need to plan ahead and try and improve on the great foundations that have served them so well!

Michy Batshuayi Ready For More Game Time At Chelsea

Without doubt £70m man Alvaro Morata will be Chelsea’s main striker next season. But after a year kicking his heels at Stamford Bridge, fellow hitman Michy Batshuayi will be hoping for more game time next term.

I think the Belgian forward will get more opportunities and I also believe he’ll make the most of them.

Last season he finished with nine goals and he only managed to get seven starts. He scored four of those goals in the last three Premier League fixtures. It seemed like a turning point, it also seemed as if he had started to earn Antonio Conte’s trust.

The twenty-three year old also impressed in Chelsea’s  3-0 rout over London rivals Arsenal in Beijing this weekend, with the Michy helping himself to a brace.

In that victory Batshuayi looked lively, linked up well with those playing in and around him and he took his goals with some aplomb too. He provided the Blues with a real focal point in attack and the team as a whole looked very good from the off.

Conte was quick to praise Michy after the game and also remind the attacker of his main duties as a Chelsea striker:

“After one year he is working very well and he is improving. Me and my staff want to improve every player and Batshuayi is a young player with great potential and it is important for him and for us to work in this way, and for him to understand what I want. For me the striker is very important, he is a point of reference. If he stays in the right position, it is easier for us, for the team and to play good football.”

Once again Chelsea have been linked with Swansea City frontman Fernando Llorente but I think they’d be better off giving Batshuayi more game time. He really does seem ready and raring to go.

Obviously with the added exciting complication that the Champions League will offer Chelsea this term, I can see no reason for the Belgian international not to get more opportunities during this campaign.

Michu Batshuayi will offer a raw, energetic style up-top. He seems desperate to prove himself and his teammates all seem to adore him, they really want to help him succeed at the club.

Antonio Conte seems to be coming round to the idea that the young hitman might be his best back-up for the next year and I think that Batshuayi won’t let anyone down if he gets more of a run in the first team at the Bridge.

They certainly shouldn’t sell him or it could be Romelu Lukaku all over again!

Can AC Milan Take Juve’s Serie A Title?

AC Milan are once again making waves in the world of football.

The Rossoneri’s new Chinese owners have come in and made some statement signings this summer. 

The most notable new recruit has been Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus in a €40m deal. That move showed they can still attract a world-class talent and it has also weakened the Italian champions.

For me, Bonucci was Juve’s best defender and he’ll certainly add class, leadership and a winning mentality to his new side. The thirty year old is one of the world’s best centre-halves, so getting him at €40m is a huge coup for Milan.

But can they really wrestle the title away from the Old Lady this season?

Well I’m not so sure.

Yes Milan do look a much stronger unit now and seem to have a lot of things going for them at the moment.

They’ve done well in the transfer market.

Franck Kessié looks like he can be a top player in the near future. The twenty year old scored six times in Serie A last year for Atalanta. The powerful central midfielder is comfortable on the ball, provides decent distribution and likes to drive forward.

But the young Ivorian is still a bit immature and it would help if he had an experienced hand playing alongside him.

That task will probably fall at the feet of fellow new-boy Lucas Biglia. The Argentine deep-laying playmaker has spent the past four seasons at Lazio, meaning he has plenty of experience in the Italian top flight.

If Milan are to do something special in the up and coming season, then it could be down to these two midfielders combining to great effect right from the get-go.

Young Portuguese international Andre Silva has come in with a €38m price tag. The twenty-one year old scored twenty-one times for FC Porto last term but that’s been his only full season with the Portuguese giant’s first team. His eight goals in thirteen caps for his national team have also helped catch the eye.

Another technically gifted footballer, Silva can also put a shift in and work the channels. Nice and direct when he gets the ball inside the box. It will be interesting to see if he can cope with the big fee attached to his head and if he can deal with the pressures that comes with leading Milan’s line.

Creative maestro Hakan Calhanoglu joins from Bayer Leverkusen. The Turkish international certainly has talent but he needs to show it on a regular basis at the San Siro.

Attacking full-back Ricardo Rodriguez has attracted interest from big clubs for a few years now, the fact no one made concrete bids for him makes you wonder if they had a reason not to solidify their interest. He’s equally adept at defending as he is attacking, so he should excel in Italy like Cafu did in the past for Milan.

He possesses a terrific engine on him and is also strong in the air. If Milan go with three at the back they can uses the Swiss man in the back three or in his more favoured fullback role.

Argentine defender Mateo Musacchio looks to be a solid purchase. The international centre-back is good in the air and he also reads the game well. He’ll no doubt improve and settle in well with Bonucci in beside him!

Milan also have a very talented coach in Vincenzo Montella and he’ll be the one tasked with finding the best system for this new squad. I’d imagine 3-4-3 with wingbacks will be his favoured choice to begin with, although he may also look at a 3-5-2 formation.

I like the fact that AC Milan also have a good core of young Italian stars coming through. Alessio Romagnoli, Manuel Locatelli, Andrea Conti and Patrick Cutrone all look like fine prospects. Hopefully Milan’s big spending spree doesn’t stall their careers.

Keeping Gianluigi Donnarumma at the club is a major plus. The young keeper is fast becoming a world-class talent. Technically sound and he also seems to have that steeliness character that has helped keep Gianluigi Buffon at the top for so many years.

Milan have a strong squad and plenty of alternatives to help Montella in changing games and getting more wins. But I still think they need one or two more top class stars.

Reports suggest that the new Milan board are willing to push the boat out and sign clinical goalscorer Andrea Belotti from Torino. The player himself seems to prefer a move to the San Siro rather than go abroad, just like Bonucci and that could help Milan’s pursuit of the striker.

If they can conclude that deal then I definitely think they can challenge Juve for the title.

But it’s important not to underestimate the current Scudetto holders. Yes they’ve lost two good players in Bonucci and Dani Alves. But they still have a strong defence and I think Daniele Rugani might come of age this term. The signing of Mattia De Sciglio from Milan will be enough to replace the gap left by Alves.

I think the loan signing Douglas Costa could be inspired with his skill, crossing ability and directness. It could be an added spark that inspires the Old Lady.

The Juventus side still look strong at the back, are vastly experienced and look to have plenty of goals in their ranks too. So I don’t think they’ll be ready to give up their championship just yet.

While I think this might be a season too soon for the Rossoneri, I do think they can make the title chase an exciting one and that can only improve the Italian game!

Time For Andrew Roberston To Prove Himself At Liverpool

I’ve said plenty of times in the last six months that Andrew Robertson deserved a chance at one of the Premier League’s top sides to show his true qualities.

Today Liverpool confirmed that they have managed to snap up the left-back in a £10m deal from Hull City. 

I’m delighted for the player, who has impressed me greatly in the last five seasons, but now is the time that he goes again and makes that big step up and proves he’s worthy of such a move.

In fairness to Andy, so far in his career, he’s faced various challenges and passed every test with flying colours.

He made the step up from Scotland’s bottom tier to the Scottish Premiership without any problems, he moved to the English Premier League without much fuss and he took to international football like a duck to water.

But ultimately this will be his toughest test to date. He has joined one of England’s and Europe’s biggest clubs in Liverpool.

The Reds finished in the Premier League’s top four last term and will hope to do so again this year. They will be looking to challenge for every trophy that they are competing in.

In the up and coming season they will also have to play midweek Champions League encounters and then concentrate again on the league campaign during the weekends. As we know that kind of schedule calls for mentally prepared footballers both fit in mind as well as body.

Robertson will be joining a side that will want to win every game. He’ll work under a boss who will want his players to perform at 100% week in and week out.

Playing left-back at Anfield under Klopp will mean that the Scottish international has to be disciplined. He will be expected to work extremely hard in defensive areas to win the ball back and then be seen as an attacking threat down the left channel when his side have the ball.

It’s an increasingly tough gig to do at an important club, that’s why we’ve seen ridiculous amounts of cash being spent on fullbacks this summer. They play an important part in balancing teams out.

The twenty-two year old will also have to contend with strong competition for a starting berth in Klopp’s first eleven. He has to do battle with Spanish £12m man Alberto Moreno and veteran James Milner.

Moreno isn’t the best defensively but can excite going forward and the Anfield side have already rejected a £11m bid from Napoli for the Spaniard this summer.

Milner was played out of position at left-back last term but did well in that unfamiliar role. He’s always dependable and it’s clear Klopp admires his work ethic and respects his willingness to do anything for the team.

In Robertson’s favour, he does seem the best overall left-back out of the three and will do both jobs well (defensively and attack). But he still needs to show that he can handle the rigours and pressures that come with playing for a big team. He does well in the tackle, has a good engine and can deliver a fantastic ball into the box.

Another plus point for Andrew is that even at twenty-two, he’s actually already a mature Premier League performer. He doesn’t get flustered easily and will work hard continuously for the team. These are traits his new gaffer likes, hence why he’s signed him.

Klopp said as much to his club’s own website:

“His attitude is outstanding – absolutely outstanding. His talent and skills – also very, very good.”

I really hope Andrew Robertson proves himself as a great full-back at Liverpool and can join the likes of Steve Nicol, Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish as great Scottish talents to grace Anfield. He seems to have the determination to give it a real go as he stated to the Liverpool FC website:

“I just want to prove to people that I can do it at this level, and hopefully I manage to do that this season and go on to do good things for this club.”

All he has to do is play consistently well and meet this challenge head on, like he’s done with every other challenge that he’s come across in his relatively short career thus far.

I’ll watch on eagerly!

West Ham United: Finding Value In This Crazy Transfer Window

It’s fair to say that this is fast becoming one of the craziest transfer windows ever in English football.

Teams are spending £75m on strikers, £50m on a fullback and £3om on a goalkeeper.

Obviously the higher TV revenues have found their way into the club’s bank accounts and most of them aren’t interested in watching that huge sum garner much in the way of interest.

But West Ham United have been fairly patient and very astute so far in this window.

Pablo Zabaleta was brought in on a free and he brings with him plenty of Premier League winning experience. They’ve also brought in England number one Joe Hart from Manchester City on loan, with the Hammers not paying a fee (they’ll cover Hart’s £5.5m yearly wage).

The London club have announced this week that they’ve agreed deals to bring in Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic and hitman Javier Hernandez from Bayer Leverkusen.

All are very modest deals when you compare them to other transfers this summer and all should enhance the Hammer’s squad.

The Arnautovic deal will break the club’s transfer record when the £24m move is completed but they will be getting an Austrian international who has impressed in the Premier League in the last few years. He has bagged twenty goals in 125 league games.

Marko will offer plenty of versatility in the forward areas. Most fans will tell you West Ham could have done with that last season, especially after Dimitri Payet’s departure. The tall attacker prefers playing on the left and that could be advantageous to Slaven Bilic.

The big Austrian has that maverick quality Payet had, albeit Payet was more consistent in showing it. Marko has also proven that he has the ability to change Premier League games and that can be a valuable commodity.

As previously stated, Argentine defender Zabaleta will bring in experience and leadership. He won two league titles at Man City and has played over 200 times in England’s top flight. The thirty-two year old still gets up and down the wing well and always battles for his team!

Joe Hart has his critics and probably isn’t at the very top level of goalkeepers but I don’t believe he’s too far away. West Ham already have two good keepers in Darren Randolph and Adrian but I’m not sure they are great number ones, I’d say they’re very good back-ups. In Hart I think Bilic now has a strong number one.

I think the Javier Hernandez deal could be the best one for the Hammers. The twenty-nine year old has a history of scoring goals when he’s had a decent run of games in the first team. The Mexican sometimes struggled to get games at Manchester United and Real Madrid but that can happen at the biggest of sides.

At Bayer Leverkusen he has shown that he really does have a prolific quality in his game. In fifty-four Bundesliga appearances he banged in twenty-eight goals. In total he has thirty-nine strikes in seventy-six games for Die Werkself. 

The striker has a predatory instinct and tenacity that should endear him to the West Ham fans, who know the value of having a proven goalscorer. He’s the type of forward who makes smart runs and always seems to find himself in the right areas at the right time.

He will no doubt thrive with having Manuel Lanzini thread through balls for him to latch onto. He’d also work well with Arnautovic playing off him. If the Hammers can keep Andy Carroll fit then ‘Chicharito’ could be an ideal striking partner with the powerful frontman.

To get a proven striker of Hernandez’ stature for a fee between £13m – £16m could prove to be the bargain of the summer.

These smart signings show that West Ham are looking at bringing players with proven Premier League track-records and who won’t be easily fazed by anything that occurs during a long hard season.

I think Bilic, the West Ham board and the club’s supporters will have been disappointed by last season’s efforts. They seemed to be in a constant state of distraction in the last year.

The move to their new home was a distraction, the Payet saga was a major distraction, being knocked out of Europe early was a distraction and the lack putting together a decent run in the first half of the season was a worrying distraction.

To help with settling in at the London Stadium, they needed a big win to really get the fans on board That win finally came in early May against London rivals Spurs. That win should give them hope for this campaign.

I’m glad they haven’t been foolish and sacked Slaven or made wholesale changes to the squad.

They’ve also done really well in keeping their main stars.

Lanzini looks like a real player, who can unlock tight games. Winston Reid, in my opinion, is one of the best and most consistent defenders in the league. While Michail Antonio’s performances last term were good enough to get him England recognition, he seems to get better each year and will hope that trend continues this season.

I hope Robert Snodgrass gets another chance to prove himself in claret and blue. He had a difficult time of it since his January move. I still think he has ability and can prove effective from wide areas and with his set-pieces. Hopefully with a full pre-season under his belt and some renewed confidence the player can show his true qualities at the London Stadium.

West Ham seem to have identified the areas in which they needed to improve upon and have managed to get proven stars that can come straight into the side. They have also done this without spending rash amounts of cash.

If these new signings can prove themselves from the off then the Hammers will be hoping that their astuteness in the transfer market can also see them succeed on the pitch and climb back into the top ten!

Can Alvaro Morata Fire Chelsea To More Glory?

You didn’t take Columbo to work out that Chelsea would be interested in signing Alvaro Morata this summer.

Antonio Conte was left frustrated in his pursuit of Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Aguero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Manchester United would pip the Blues to the signing of Lukaku but before that deal was concluded United were very interested in Morata but couldn’t get the transfer done.

Well Chelsea have announced that they have agreed a deal with Real Madrid for the forward.

But can the twenty-four year old fire Chelsea to glory next term? If you enjoy placing a bet on such things then you should check out daily accas accumulator.

The striker has certainly got a nose for goals. So far in his career he has bagged 103 goals in 271 appearances (a lot from the bench).

Last season in La Liga, he only started fourteen times (he appeared as a substitute on 12 further occasions) but still grabbed fifteen strikes. The player also has a credible nine goals in twenty caps for Spain.

At twenty-four the attacker is still maturing but he has already shown that he has the abilities to do well in the English Premier League. Alvaro has already succeeded in Europe and in top leagues at both Real and Juventus.

Morata as I’ve already said has a good instinct when it comes to finding the back of the net. He has quick feet and he also has great movement, which gets him away from opposing defenders. He can finish with either foot and is direct with his running style.

Now it’s worth noting that Morata will be replacing Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge and while he’s maybe not as ferocious Alvaro does share some similar traits with his fellow Spanish international. He is decent in the air, hold the ball up, hits the channels and he also links up well with those around hm.

He could offer more fluidity in attack. The pace and interchanging between Morata, Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro will be exciting to watch and could leave plenty of defences in a spin!

Conte will be happy that Alvaro is more disciplined and the Blues boss will no doubt hope for a quitter life with him leading his line instead of Costa. Antonio will obviously know the player well from his Serie A days, he was key in Juve’s pursuit of the forward back in 2014.

The striker himself has stated in the past that he really admires the Italian gaffer:

“Conte is the manager who most ‘bet’ on me, without even ever having had me in his team. I’m very conscious of that: he bet on me for Juventus but left before I arrived; then he wanted me at Chelsea come what may. He knows me better than I could imagine, I’m sure, and that’s important: it motivates you to work hard, train well.”

If he arrives with a £60m price tag then Chelsea could believe they’ve managed to snap up a bargain as it’s considerably lower than the fee Man United paid for Lukaku.

If Alvaro Morata can hit the ground running at Chelsea then they could enjoy yet another successful season.

Direct comparisons between Morata and Lukaku will ultimately ensue but the only stats that will matter next May will be who scores the most goals and who wins more trophies.

Morata certainly has the qualities to do well in England and grab the headlines with his goalscoring prowess.

Picture Blog: Fiorentina

I have just arrived home after a terrific holiday to Florence. I enjoyed the sun, art, food and the scenery. But I also managed to take some time out and visit ACF Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Not the easiest to walk to from the city centre but I’m really glad I made the effort!


 

Will Jose Mourinho Have Man United Playing With Three At The Back?

Manchester United have been linked with signing a full-back all summer but I’m wondering if Jose Mourinho has other ideas for his defence next season.

When you look at his current squad and the £31m signing of Victor Lindelöf from Benfica you cannot help but notice that the Red Devils have quite a few centre-backs within their pool.

So could Jose look at playing three at the back at Old Trafford next term? 

Well the abundance of versatile defenders could suggest he might.

As well as Lindelöf they also have Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Axel Tuanzebe and these are all players that could fit into a system that has three central defenders. You could also add Michael Carrick to the list if you have an unusual amount of injuries/suspensions.

Premier League champions Chelsea showed last term that you can use three at the back to excellent effect with the right personnel.

If you think United can emulate Chelsea’s title triumph then make sure to use this promo code for William Hill.

If United were to follow suit then would they also go with three forwards like Antonio Conte did at Stamford Bridge?

Well the prospect of seeing £75m new boy Romelu Lukaku spearheading an attack with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford playing either side of him could have United fans licking their lips.

But I believe Mourinho’s defensive disciplined tactical brain will instinctively kick in and he’ll be more inclined to forgoing a forward in favour of going with two attacking full-backs and a defensive midfielder,

A new holding middle-man has been identified by Mourinho as he continues to improve his side. Both Nemanja Matic and Tiemoue Bakayoko have been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford.

I think Jose believes that having a marshalling midfielder will get the best out of Paul Pogba.

Man Utd also have Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw in the squad who would flourish as attacking full-backs. You might also see Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard or even Henrikh Mkhitaryan out on the flank as wing-backs. Then there’s Blind, Rojo and Tuanzebe who could fill in as full-backs if they are still looking for a spot in the starting eleven.

With three at the back, two full-backs, a holding midfielder and two central midfielders then you’d have the chance to play with two forwards.

That could see more opportunities for either Rashford or Martial if they were selected to partner Lukaku up-top. Two of those together could cause havoc in front of goal.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney departing this summer, Man United look to have a younger more vibrant attack ready for the next campaign.

Another option could see Jose playing Romelu as a lone striker and have an attacking midfielder linking up as a number ten. It would be interesting to see Pogba in behind his best pal Lukaku. You’d imagine that Juan Mata and Mkhitaryan would relish the chance to shine in that role.

As always, it’s very difficult to predict what Jose Mourinho will do next. The Portuguese boss is known for springing surprises and doing anything to grind out wins and trophies.

Will he go for three at the back?

I really don’t know but he certainly has a squad that lends itself to going down that route if he so chooses. The Manchester United preseason tour in America could give us a few answers!